Green as a verb

Posted on June 17, 2009


Our Simple Pledge is subtitled “towards sustainable practice”.   In explaining what we’re up to, I often use the line: “this is a journey and we might never reach the destination”.

There’s similar thoughts in Daniel Goleman’s Ecological Intelligence (Amazon).  In an extract in SciAm “Green is a mirage“, Goleman explores the Life Cycle Analysis.   He describes the impact of the manufacture of glass and finds an incredibly complex process with a multitude of impacts.  This leads to some really insightful observations:

This transforms our notions of “green” from what seems a binary judgment—green or not into a far more sophisticated arena of fine distinctions, each showing relatively better or worse impacts along myriad dimensions.

Every small step toward green helps, to be sure. But our craze for all things green represents a transitional stage, a dawning of awareness of ecological impact but one that lacks precision, depth of understanding, and clarity. Much of what’s touted as “green” in reality represents fantasy or simple hype. We are past the day when one or two virtuous qualities of a product qualify it as green.  To tout a product as green on the basis of a single attribute—while ignoring numerous negative impacts—parallels a magician’s sleight of hand.

But those green choices, helpful as they are, too often lull us to more readily ignore the way that what we now think of as “green” is a bare beginning, a narrow slice of goodness among the myriad unfortunate impacts of all manufactured objects. Today’s standards for green ness will be seen tomorrow as eco- myopia.

I particularly like this conclusion:

Green is a process, not a status—we need to think of “green” as a verb, not an adjective.

In an interview also on SciAm, Goleman describes the radicial transparency enabled by industrial ecology:

The most vital lie is that a given product is green. “Green” is an illusion once you understand life cycle analysis. Anything made has impacts all along its way. You can make a T-shirt from organic cotton and then you call it green. Maybe out of 1,000 ecological impacts you’ve improved one. What about the other 999?

He points to GoodGuide as boiling this down for us:  “If you really want to know the numbers, they also show the basis for their ratings. There’s a hidden layer and then there’s the layer that faces us. Luckily, the layer facing us is friendly”.

Goleman advocates compassionate consumption.   He argues that we should follow three principles:

1. Know impacts

2. Favour improvements

3. Share what you know.

Perhaps the most important statement Goleman’s parting “I’m really just at the beginning of a long, rich journey into this”.     We all are, and need to remember this.